It's a common belief that Mothers are omnipotent when it comes to Contact and can elect at will, whether or not to allow the father of their Children to see them or have a relationship with them. Indeed, this has been the plight hailed by many father's rights groups as the experience of their members. Whilst it is always important to approach horror stories with caution, and look at the reality behind sensationalist headlines and statistics, the problem of enforcing contact in the face of an utterly intransigent mother has been a problem with which parents, Family Lawyers and family judges have grappled for many years.
In 2008, new measures were brought in to attach enforcement provisions to Contact Orders made by the courts which allowed anyone failing to abide by the terms of the order to be fined or made to do unpaid work, similar to Community Service. Prison is also available for persistent offenders. Whilst many judges are reluctant to use a custodial sentence against the mother of small children, cases where they are willing to do so are appearing. The message is becoming clear that deliberate attempts to deprive a child of a relationship with both parents and wider family is abusive, potentially damaging, and will not be tolerated. The courts have also started to increasingly use their other weapon of last resort - the change of Residence. This week saw the report of Re M 2012 EWHC 1948, a case in which a High Court Judge made an order giving a mother one final chance to facilitate contact and stating that if she did not do so, the children would thereafter live with their father. The case is one of an increasing number of decisions by the family courts to change residence if a parent refuses to facilitate contact. This is good news for parents who have been 'against a brick wall' when trying to see their children, and provides hope for many who have been alienated following Relationship Breakdown.
There will of course always be cases in which it is right and proper that the contact a child has with a parent, be it their mother or father is limited. It is always important to remember that contact is considered to be the right of the child, and exist for their benefit, rather than being the right of the parent. For the many Children who are wrongly missing out on the opportunity to have a relationship with both parents however, the increasing move towards taking a stand must mark positive progress.
Cara Nuttall is a Family & Divorce Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers. For a free initial consultation call freephone 0808 175 8000 or contact us online and we will call you.